IRELAND SQUAD (2011 RBS 6 Nations Championship):
Backs (13) -
Tommy Bowe (Ospreys)
The speedster on the wing has had another impressive season for Ospreys. Bowe has become a pivotal playmaker for Ireland since breaking into the side two years ago and Declan Kidney will be looking for him to attack the scoring charts again this year.
Gordon D'Arcy (Lansdowne - Leinster)
D'Arcy is definitely not the player he was when he first broke into the squad but is still a reliable option in the center. D'Arcy is not the greatest passer for an inside center but still has the ability to gain hard yards up the middle. His place may be under threat from Keith Earls who has performed well for a struggling Munster side this year.
Gavin Duffy (Galwegians - Connacht)
Duffy's Ireland career appeared to be over a few years ago after returning to the country to play for Connacht but he has definitely earned his spot over the past year or showing flashes of playmaking ability for Connacht while being reliable in defense.
Keith Earls (Thomond - Munster)
Keith Earls can be described in one word; explosive. Earls has great breakaway pace with ability to elude tacklers even at the international level. This could be Earls year for Ireland as he has already proven himself on the club stage. Earls could take over the center position or fill in at fullback for Rob Kearney.
Luke Fitzgerald (Blackrock College - Leinster)
Fitzgerald has shaken off his injury from the November internationals and will be vying to fill in for the injured Rob Kearney for the opening game against Italy. Fitzgerald is a versatile player that runs great angles and has a brilliant rugby mind. He lacks Earls' explosion but is almost a guaranteed starter at this stage.
Shane Horgan (Boyne - Leinster)
Horgan brings a huge amount of experience to the Irish squad but that's not all. Horgan has been brilliant for Leinster this season looking like the Shaggy of old. He brings a new presence to the back-line as he towers over other wingers like a second row.
Ronan O'Gara (Cork Constitution - Munster)
O'Gara's starting place is no longer his to claim. He will likely be the backup for Jonathan Sexton for the tournament. O'Gara is a steadying influence that can manage the game with his boot should Ireland need to change the game plan or if Sexton struggles.
Brian O'Driscoll (UCD - Leinster)
Potentially the greatest player to ever play the game is still a stalwart and the first name on the team sheet for Declan Kidney. What O'Driscoll has lost in pace he makes up for in intelligence and work rate. O'Driscoll looks to bring other players into the game and take advantage of the playmakers around him. His true strength is the work that the average fan does not take any notice of, O'Driscoll is like an extra flanker on the field with his intensity as a tackler and battling in rucks. He has no disregard for his body and gives everything he can when he steps on the field.
Eoin Reddan (Lansdowne - Leinster)
Reddan has a legitimate chance at starting throughout this whole Six Nations as Tomas O'Leary's form has dipped after injury. Reddan is not as fast as O'Leary running or as capable in defense but he is a better all around player than Peter Stringer without a major drop off in quality of service to his out-half.
Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary's College - Leinster)
Sexton has slumped slightly since starring on his debut against South Africa but remains an all around talent with the ability to win games with his kicking or general play. Sexton offers more to the team than O'Gara without the frailty in defense.
Peter Stringer (Shannon - Munster)
The Munster Scrum Half is probably the best pure passer in the game since George Gregan however he offers the team nothing outside of that. His starting place will be determined by the game-plan that Declan Kidney looks to employ. Should O'Gara win the starting out-half job expect Stringer to be his half back partner.
Andrew Trimble (Ballymena - Ulster)
Trimble burst onto the Irish scene as a youngster but suffered through loss of form and long term injuries since then. He has been impressive for Ulster in the Heineken Cup this season and should he impress in the weeks leading up to the first game he could possibly start at various positions on the team. Trimble is strong enough and fast enough to play both center and winger but is not likely to be trusted at fullback.
Paddy Wallace (Ballymena - Ulster)
Wallace is a solid player who makes the team because of his versatility. Wallace can backup both out-half and center or as an emergency full back.
Forwards (17) -
Rory Best (Banbridge - Ulster)
Rory Best is in line to be the starter for Ireland for the opening Six Nations game but will need to stay on his toes with the return of Jerry Flannery from injury. Best is a solid thrower at the line out and a fantastic player in the loose but needs to improve as a scrummager.
Tom Court (Malone - Ulster)
Court could see time on the bench for Ireland after being reliable for Ulster through the year. Ireland are struggling for true prop talent and it says a lot about Court that he hasn't been able to break into the starting line up.
Sean Cronin (Buccaneers - Connacht)
Sean Cronin is a good young player who's time is yet to come. He will only play in the Six Nations should Jerry Flannery and Rory Best become unavailable. At 24 he has plenty of time left.
Leo Cullen (Blackrock College - Leinster)
Cullen has been outstanding for Leinster again this year and would be a starter for most international teams. He is a good lineout jumper and probably Ireland's best all around second row when you consider his work around the field and in the scrum. He will lose out to the line out experts from Munster but it wouldn't be a major shock if he started come Six Nations time.
Stephen Ferris (Dungannon - Ulster)
The Physical freaks only flaw is his durability. Ferris is a monster that can take over games at times. He is the perfect flanker that can run with backs and take on props. His combination of size and pace is only matched by his intensity that strikes fear in all opponents. He excels in defense as a vicious tackler.
Jerry Flannery (Shannon - Munster)
The oft-injured hooker from Munster will need to fight to reclaim his place as Ireland's starting hooker from the impressive Rory Best. A fully fit Flannery is a better player than his Ulster compatriot but Best has performed very well in his absence and Flannery needs to prove his health.
John Hayes (Bruff - Munster)
Hayes presence on this team highlights the lack of up and coming prop talent. He lost his place for Munster this season and realistically is too old to play international rugby. Hayes will go down as probably the best prop ever to play for Ireland but those days are over.
Cian Healy (Clontarf - Leinster)
Healy needs to step it up this year and become a leader of the front row. He has shown sparks for Ireland in the past but needs to string performances together and improve in the set pieces.
Jamie Heaslip (Naas - Leinster)
Heaslip is another player that needs to become a leader in the pack. He is one of the leading players in the next generation of Irish talent. He runs like a back and takes defenders on like a forward. He has outstanding feet for a big man.
Shane Jennings (St. Mary's College - Leinster)
Jennings is often the odd man out in a crowded back row but that may change this year. Jennings has outperformed most of his teammates at the club level and if the team was picked on form he would be the starter. He is not as heavy set as Wallace or Leamy and would allow the team to be more expansive as an attacking unit.
Denis Leamy (Cork Constitution - Munster)
One of the few bright sparks for Munster this season has been the performances of the stand in Munster Captain. Leamy has led by example being a brash ball carrier and relentless rucker. It will be hard to leave Leamy out of this side.
Donncha O'Callaghan (Cork Constitution - Munster)
O'Callaghan is often overlooked in the shadow of Paul O'Connell but in recent times has outperformed his second row mate. Should Leo Cullen be included from the start O'Callaghan would not be the one dropping to the bench. O'Callaghan is an expert in the lineout and shows great ability to get around the field.
Paul O'Connell (Young Munster - Munster)
O'Connell is often revered as the best second row in the world however these days he is living off his reputation. He is a world class lineout jumper, potentially the best in the world, but he spends too much time in the backline and rarely gains forward momentum as a ball carrier. O'Connell is not an aggressive rucker or tackler and his flaws are often overlooked because of the talent in the back row and his reputation.
Sean O'Brien (Clontarf - Leinster)
The explosive flanker for Leinster is definitely going to feature for Ireland this year and years to come. He may only be used off the bench but expect him to lay a big hit or rumble through some potential tacklers when given the opportunity.
Mick O'Driscoll (Cork Constitution - Munster)
The last man in the second row is simply making up the numbers for Declan Kidney's squad. O'Driscoll is a good player but not on the level of those ahead of him.
Mike Ross (Clontarf - Leinster)
None of the Irish Props are good international scrummagers and Ross is probably the worst. He does not add anything else to the team like those ahead of him which will keep him off the gameday squad.
David Wallace (Garryowen - Munster)
Wallace is in the twilight of his career and may be limited to an impact role from the bench this season. He is still a fearsome ball carrier and would not embarrass the team should he start but don't expect the same impact from him like season's past.